Part 2: Twyla
Everywhere you looked there were baskets and bushels of fruit. Apples, peaches, oranges, lemons, grapes…you name it. If it could be grown in America it seemed to be under the roof of Orchard House. Walking down an aisle that had to include at least a dozen different varieties of apples, I saw a little girl, Twyla I presumed, at a table in the back. She sat on a stool like an eight year old bartender, mixing up a new batch of her lemonade. Spread out on the table were assorted lemons, a sack of sugar, and what appeared to be her creation in a bottled form. She, being the good little salesperson, saw me coming and perked right up. “Hey there Mister, want some lemonade? First cup is free.”
“Yeah your mom told me you made it yourself.”
The girl giggled and beamed proudly. “She will like that,” she grinned. Then she leaned forward in a hushed whisper, “She’s not my mom. She’s my grams.”
I turned back around to the doorway to see if the woman had followed me through. She hadn’t.
“Well, little miss,” I said, “She looked young enough to be your mom.”
“Oh she’s not an old gram. She’s only fifty. You probably aren’t far behind.”
I laughed out loud. You got to love the honesty of children. She was right of course. At forty-five, I guess I wasn’t that far at all.
She poured me a cup of her concoction and handed it to me. I took it, and without hesitation drank the contents down in one gulp. It was very good, probably the best I had tasted. “This has got to be the worst orange juice ever,” I exclaimed, to which she frowned. “But for a lemonade it is absolutely the bestest.”
She smiled brightly. “Thank you mister.” Then she frowned at me as if she were a parent admonishing a kid. “But I think you should know, ‘bestest’ isn’t a real word.”
“Yeah I know. But it is the best lemonade I have tasted in many a year.”
The saleswoman in the girl saw her opportunity. “Would you like to buy a bottle?”
I feigned surprise. “What? A bottle?”
“No I won’t buy a bottle.” Then I gave her a wink. “But I’ll take a case if you got it.”
Twyla’s grandmother looked very surprised when I came walking out of the fruit stand with a case of her lemonade in my arms. She laughed.
“My, I thought she had it in her to sell, but she has clearly outdone herself.”
“Mam, Twyla makes the best lemonade I had to overlook my disappointment in Orchard House.”
For a moment her smile faltered. “Disappointed? What disappointed you?”
“Well,” I confessed. “The sign at the end of the road said Orchard House, and I guess I just thought it was a hotel or bed and breakfast. Some place I could kick back my heels and forget the things I have to do for a while.”
Now she smiled. “Well technically, this here isn’t Orchard House. The actual house is up around the bend on the backside of the orchard.my husband and I converted into just the sort of thing you are looking for.”
“Wow, well I guess it’s not a real disappointment after all.”
“Nope. And it’s empty at the moment and ready for visitors. Only sixty-fivedollars a night. “
“That sounds very reasonable. Indoor plumbing?”
“Sure is. You got a full bath, kitchen, dining room, den, two bedrooms downstairs, two more on the upper level. And like I said, it’s empty so you can sleep in any room you like.”
“Can I see it?”
“Sure can. Just go out to the road, take a right, head around the bend and you’ll see it. It sits up on a little hill looking down on the orchard on one side, the road on the other. “
I pulled out my money and paid the woman for the lemonade. “Okay, yeah I’ll go take a look.”
“Really there’s no need to drive. You can just step out back and see it on the hill. Twyla, show this nice man the house.”
Since the girl had made a new friend in me, she grabbed my hand and led me out the back door of the store. Sure enough, it sat up on a hill not far off, and I could tell from here it was just the place of solitude I was looking for. Nearly surrounded by fruit trees, I could imagine myself walking through the orchard gathering my thoughts and trying to plan what was left of my life. Sifting through the wreckage left behind by Ashley I was going to need the solitude.
Twyla squeezed my hand. “You okay, Mister?”
I looked down at her and smiled. “Sure. I was just lost for a moment.”
“I got lost once,” she offered. “But Jackson came and found me.”
She pointed to the house. “See there in the yard? That’s Jackson.”
Because of the distance it took me awhile to see what she was talking about, but then I saw it. A big brown and white dog lying in the grass.
“He comes with the house,” she told me. “He don’t bite or nothing. “
“Unless you bite first,” she added with a smile.
“Swell,” I said. “Well, I guess I’ll take it.”
She let go of my hand and ran back into the store. I could hear her shouting for her grams with glee in her voice. “He wants it! Now gimme my dollar, I sold it.”
I laughed. Twyla was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the business world one day.
By the time I got back inside, the matronly woman had a key in her hand. “Twyla tells me you’re going to stay. How many nights you be needing?”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I was winging things and not thinking beyond the moment at all. “Go ahead and set me up for a week. Got no place I need to be until then.” I didn’t want to tell her I had no place to be at all. That home didn’t exist for me anymore. It’s odd when there is no way back from where you came. All you can do is stand still or move forward when every bridge behind you is burning. I figured this was as good a place as any to stand still.
“That will be three hundred dollars,” she said. “I knocked off twenty-five for your disappointment.”
When I saw her knowing smile, I grinned and thanked her. I opened my wallet and counted out the cash. Noticing credit cards peeking out, she informed me, “We do take cards, if you prefer. We ain’t so far out we only know the color green.”
“Oh. Ok. I didn’t know. Yeah, let me pay with my card then.”
I took out my credit card and she handed the cash back to me. “We also like the color gold,” she chuckled, and it reminded me of my own mother, sitting on her back porch and telling Ashley all my boyhood horror stories. I didn’t mind the memory of my mother, but I could do without the image of my ex in my old Arc Angels t-shirt.
She handed me my receipt and got me to sign for the charge. “You should have everything you need up there already. Clean towels and sheets. There is a washer and dryer in the kitchen so you can clean your clothes and stuff. If you need anything, there is a phone on the wall. Local calls are free and our number is posted beside it. There’s no food in the frig, you will have to stock that yourself. Umm, let’s see, what else?”
I tucked the receipt away in my wallet and was already looking forward to a nice long bath. I had some soap left over from the last hotel and a new bottle of shampoo from where I stopped off at the shopping mall in Bedford.
As if reading my mind, she said, “There may be some soap, but probably no shampoo. And in case Twyla didn’t mention it, we have an old Australian shepherd who stays at the house. His name is Jackson, but he stays outside and won’t bother you. Got some dog biscuits in the cabinet if you want to give him a treat from time to time though. Other than that, I think you are all set. If something happens and you lose the key, just give us a shout, either here or on the phone, and we’ll bring you another. Twyla and I have to head out soon, but my husband Raymond will be here to help if you need anything. He’s out in the orchard with the workers right now. “
“I think I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
“You enjoy it up there. Generations of my husband’s family have lived there. Lot of history and good times behind those walls. Hope it will be good for you too.”
I smiled, thinking I really could use some good memories to outweigh the ones that had been less than kind here lately. “I’m sure it will be a pleasant experience,” I told her and headed for the door.
“Oh wait, here’s a basket,” she called. “Be sure to pick you some apples while you’re there. Personally I like the red delicious, but Twyla is all about the granny smith.”
I took the empty basket and thanked her again. I waved to the little girl in the back, who true to her grams word had just taken a bit of a green apple and was waving back. Going out the door, and looked back, wondering if all this could be a mirage. After a lifetime in the city, Orchard House seemed like a dream. I had no idea how dreamy it was about to get…
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.